LA CROSSE, Wis. (WEAU) – A trio of grants will allow a La Crosse nonprofit to improve access to health care in the Coulee Region.

Navigating health care systems can be a daunting task, and oftentimes patients may be confused about where to go to receive the most adequate care for their needs.

Great Rivers HUB, a program of Great Rivers United Way, is trying to bridge the gap between patients and health care through community health workers (CHW).

“Community health workers are people with lived experience who are passionate about their community, and who want to give back to their community,” HUB Director Lindsey Purl explained.

CHWs serve as a liaison between health and social services in a community, working as advocates, health educators, navigators of resource systems, and central care coordinators.

The HUB partners with various organizations in the Coulee Region, including St. Clare Health Mission, Independent Living Resources, and the La Crosse YMCA, and provides them with CHWs.

Maria Romero Don Juan is one of four CHWs that works with St. Clare, assisting Spanish-speaking diabetics with their health care.

“When they go into their appointments and everything like that, they don’t completely understand the lingo of it,” Don Juan said. “It really is just kind of working one-on-one with them, explaining how their illness affects them directly, and how they can manage it.”

St. Clare Executive Director Jason Larsen says CHWs like Don Juan are ready to serve community members however they can.

“Our community health workers are giving rides to WAFER Food Pantry, they’re helping get set up with primary medical care, and sometimes giving rides to those appointments,” Larsen detailed. “It’s just such a full range of tasks that they can help our clients and patients with.”

At the moment, Great Rivers HUB has nine contracted CHWs, but plans are being made to expand that number.

The HUB has been awarded three grants totaling more than $1.1M, and Purl says that money will fund 13 additional CHWs over the next two years.

“The fact that we’ll now be able to over double the amount of community health workers means that our community will be healthier, and people will have a better quality of life,” Purl added.

Great Rivers HUB is receiving $855,000 from the Wisconsin Department of Administration, $226,000 from the American Rescue Plan Act through the City of La Crosse, and $88,950 from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

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